Critical Race Theory This video-essay explores the intellectual history of critical race theory, how it's devouring America's public institutions, and what you can do to fight back.
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Critical race theory (CRT) is a legal scholarship and an academic movement of civil-rights scholars and activists in the United States that critically examines U.S. law as it deals with issues of race in the U.S. CRT originated in the mid-1970s in the writings of several American legal scholars, including Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, Kimberle' Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Cheryl Harris, Charles R. Lawrence III, Mari Matsuda, and Patricia J. Williams. It grew as a movement by the 1980s, reworking the theories of critical legal studies (CLS) with a focus on race.
The basic tenets of CRT say that racism and disparate racial outcomes are the result of complex, changing and subtle social and institutional systems rather than explicit and intentional prejudices. They also view race and white supremacy as an social construction which serves to uphold the interests of white people against those of marginalized communities. CRT emphasizes that merely making laws colorblind on may not be enough to make the application of the laws colorblind and that colorblind laws can be applied in racially discriminatory ways. A key concept is intersectionality, which emphasizes that race can intersect with other identities (such as gender and class) to produce combinations of power and disadvantage. Since 2020, conservatives in the United States have sought to ban or restrict critical race theory along with other anti-racism programs.
It also says racism is also something embedded in legal systems and policies. A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often explicitly due to the racial composition. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Blacks in those areas. Today, those same patterns live on through facially "race-blind" policies, like single-family zoning that prevents the building of affordable housing in advantaged, majority-white neighborhoods which stymies racial desegregation efforts.
Between 1626 and 1860, the Atlantic slave trade brought more than 470,000 Africans to what is now the United States, as slaves. White European Americans who participated in the slave industry tried to justify their economic exploitation of black people by creating a "scientific" theory of white superiority and black inferiority. After the Civil War, white supremacists came to power in all Southern states, by intimidating black voters with the assistance of terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts and the White League. "Black Codes" and Jim Crow laws deprived African Americans of voting rights and other civil liberties by instituting systemic and discriminatory policies of unequal racial segregation. Throughout the post-Civil War period, racial stratification was informally and systemically enforced, to solidify the pre-existing social order.
Although their vote was guaranteed by the 15th Amendment, poll taxes, pervasive acts of terrorism such as lynching (often perpetrated by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan), and discriminatory laws such as grandfather clauses kept black Americans disenfranchised in most Southern states. In response to de jure racism, protest and lobbyist groups emerged, most notably, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in 1909. Then racism, segregation, racial discrimination, and expressions of white supremacy all increased. So did anti-black violence, including race riots such as the Atlanta Race riot of 1906, the Elaine massacre of 1919, and the Tulsa race riot of 1921. The Atlanta riot was characterized as a "racial massacre of negroes" by the French newspaper Le Petit Journal.
In addition, racism, which had been viewed as a problem which primarily existed in the Southern states, burst onto the nation's consciousness following the Great Migration, the relocation of millions of African Americans from their roots in the rural Southern states to the industrial centers of the North and West between 1910 and 1970. Throughout this period, racial tensions exploded, most violently in Chicago, and lynching-mob-directed hangings, usually racially motivated-increased dramatically in the 1920s. Urban riots-whites attacking blacks-became a northern and western problem. Many whites defended their space with violence, intimidation, or legal tactics toward African Americans, while many other whites migrated to more racially homogeneous suburban or exurban regions, a process known as white flight.
Elected in 1912, President Woodrow Wilson authorized the practice of racial segregation throughout the federal government's bureaucracy. In World War I, blacks who served in the United States Armed Forces served in segregated units. Black soldiers were often poorly trained and equipped, and they were often put on the frontlines and forced to go on suicide missions. The U.S. military was still heavily segregated during World War II. In addition, no African American was awarded the Medal of Honor during the war, and sometimes, black soldiers who traveled on trains had to give their seats up to Nazi prisoners of war.
The Jim Crow Laws were state and local laws which were enacted in the Southern and border states of the United States and enforced between 1876 and 1965. They mandated "separate but equal" status for blacks. This led to treatment and accommodations that were almost always inferior to those which were provided to whites. The most important laws required that public schools, public places, and public transportation, like trains and buses, have separate facilities for whites and blacks.
Notable acts of anti-black violence that sparked public outrage included the 1955 lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the 1963 assassination of civil rights activist and NAACP member Medgar Evers by a member of the White Citizens' Council. In both cases the perpetrators were able to evade conviction with the help of all-white juries. In the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Ku Klux Klansmen killed four black girls, aged 11 to 14. Segregation continued even after the demise of the Jim Crow laws. Data on house prices and attitudes towards integration suggest that in the mid-20th century, segregation was a product of collective actions taken by whites to exclude blacks from their neighborhoods.
Segregation also took the form of redlining, the practice of denying or increasing the cost of services, such as banking, insurance, access to jobs, access to health care, or even supermarkets to residents in certain, often racially determined, areas. Although in the U.S. informal discrimination and segregation have always existed, redlining began with the National Housing Act of 1934, which established the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Up until the 1940s, the full revenue potential of what was called "the Negro market" was largely ignored by white-owned manufacturers in the U.S., with advertising focused on whites. Blacks, including Olympic champion Jesse Owens, were also denied commercial deals. Famous blacks like Owens and Hattie McDaniel had to suffer humiliating treatment even at events celebrating their achievements.
As the civil rights movement and the dismantling of Jim Crow laws in the 1950s and 1960s deepened existing racial tensions in much of the Southern U.S, a Republican Party electoral strategy - the Southern strategy - was enacted to increase political support among white voters in the South by appealing to racism against African Americans. From 1981 to 1997, the United States Department of Agriculture discriminated against tens of thousands of black American farmers, denying loans that were provided to white farmers in similar circumstances. Numerous authors, academics, and historians have asserted that the War on Drugs has been racially and politically motivated. Continuing the "tough on crime" policies and rhetoric of earlier politicians, President Ronald Reagan announced his administration's War on Drugs in October 1982.
A few years later, the crack epidemic spread across the country in the mid-1980s, leading Congress to pass the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. Under these sentencing guidelines, five grams of crack cocaine, often sold by and to African Americans, carried a mandatory five-year prison sentence. However, for powder cocaine, often sold by and to white Americans, it would take one hundred times that amount, or 500 grams, for the same sentence, leading many to criticize the law as discriminatory. 145 fires were set to churches around the South in the 1990s, and a mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina was committed in 2015 at the historic Mother Emanuel Church.
During the mid-2010s, American society has seen a resurgence of high levels of racism and discrimination. One new phenomenon has been the rise of the "alt-right" movement: a white nationalist coalition which seeks the expulsion of sexual and racial minorities from the United States. The Black Lives Matter movement started in 2013 after the acquittal of a white man who had killed the African American teen Trayvon Martin.
In August 2017, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued a rare warning to the US and its leadership to "unequivocally and unconditionally" condemn racist speech and crime, following violence in Charlottesville during a rally organized by white nationalists, white supremacists, Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and various right-wing militias in August.
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